talkSPORT’s IAN DANTER on Ballcrack…being Gary Lineker…and writing songs
Monday March 5
There’ll probably be protests about this before I’ve even typed a full sentence – I can hear it now. ‘Why oh why oh why is a mere broadcast journalist being asked to submit pieces for the Football Writers’ Association? Blokes like him just waffle on about bad refereeing decisions and occasionally stop to tell you what Wickes have on offer in the tungsten tip screw aisle – he doesn’t actually write anything does he? etc etc blah blah…”
OK, so there’s probably not such outrage, actually – these are just the ramblings of a fragile broadcasting ego after all. One who gets absolute dogs abuse on Twitter just for innocently announcing the attendance at a game as though it’s some Machiavellian plot to destabilise a club. But I’m sure we’ve all been there.
Anyway…Mondays are usually the quiet day of the week for me, work-wise, but I was asked by the talkSPORT office to attend the press conference at Birmingham City’s Wast Hills training ground ahead of tomorrow’s Chelsea replay – and an obvious line of questioning to take with Chris Hughton given the AVB heave-ho last night.
John Curtis of PA is always there early at these sorts of things – a man given to breaking into song at almost any moment apropos nothing. My mere mention of the passing of guitarist Ronnie Montrose the previous day sent him into a full on Freddie Mercury impression of all things. Utterly bonkers.
Chris Hughton is always friendly, approachable and affable – an interviewer’s delight in most respects. You’re never going to get a Di Canio-esque meltdown or a Warnock-esque moanfest off him (or Freddie Mercury for that matter) – just the facts typically. So it’s not really a journalistic ‘challenge’ in that way. He made his displeasure known at the AVB P45, but not in such a way that you’d call it provocative or edgy – simply level-headed and uncomplicated…you sense his players get exactly that too, and thrive on it.
Mick McCarthy was always a challenge – in a good way. He seemed more playful in a post-match situation when they’d lost rather than won or drawn. I’ll really miss his pressers. Not as much as Wolves will miss his drive and authority in these next few weeks. That was a clanger of Oliver Postgate proportions from Steve Morgan in my opinion. (one for the over 40’s there)
Tuesday March 6
An early start to trek into Birmingham City Centre to collect some audio leads I need to record a voiceover piece back at my little home studio. It’s for use on a YouTube topical football comedy skit called “Ballcrack” (delightful) which is made for a well-known Irish bookmaking firm that pays out on title winners before the clocks go back. Yes, them.
It’s a chance for me to indulge in a few silly impressions of some of soccer’s luminaries, which I’ve done with varying degrees of success over the years to the delight of most I’ve encountered in the press box. My Trevor Francis and Graham Taylor have come in for special praise, and I’ve even made a David O’Leary voice raise a smile – there’s a rarity.
Job suitably done to a script written for me rather than by me – see, I still haven’t written anything yet, my dear writers – I then head off to a local school at the behest of my father-in-law (who teaches there) to give a talk to some vaguely interested 6th form pupils about the machinations of radio station marketing and promotion to our mostly male audience on talkSPORT. No one falls asleep, picks their nose or resorts to wearily asking who my favourite player is. Boom.
Not long after leaving the school (without having my head shoved down a toilet bowl, as was usually the case 30 years ago), I’m asked to come on the talkSPORT Hawksbee & Jacobs show to preview the B’ham/Chelsea Cup replay – Paul Hawksbee is a fine presenter and an incredibly sharp wit, so it’s always a delight to contribute to his shows. He delights in me telling him that our East Mids reporter Geoff Peters was approached at Stoke last weekend and asked for an autograph by a fan believing him to be Alvin Martin – a schoolboy error, as Geoff doesn’t possess that ‘regular trip to Spain’ tan that Alvin does.
The press room at St Andrew’s is packed to the rafters a few hours later as the somewhat low budget catering serves up an admittedly decent-looking Chicken Sagwalla curry with rice and naan. I listen out intently for somebody to snort the ‘you get more than this at the Bridge’ mantra… which doesn’t materialise. Hot food at Birmingham City is a relatively modern phenomenon for the media – and up until the season before last, such hot dishes as Cottage Pie were served up onto the flimsiest paper plates. The press room chairs have a small retractable table attached to the arm, but these sit at a sight angle to the horizontal, making eating such offerings a bit of a struggle. Especially when gravy is involved. It’s a balancing act up there with keeping a Malteser on a slab of marble.
The big hitters from the nationals are there for the AVB/RDM/KGB angle of Nouveau Chelsea, and the London Blues look a tad nervous in the first 45, only for a quick 2-goal salvo just prior to the hour to see them past Championship Birmingham and into the FA Cup’s last 8. Fernando Torres wins a penalty not long after the 2nd goal, and the Chelsea fans at the Gil Merrick End scream for him to take the resulting kick – only for the 20,000 Bluenoses in the other 3 stands to scream even louder in agreement. “We Want Torres!” the Bluenoses cry. He resists, Mata duly takes the responsibility…and misses.
Other chant of the night from the CFC faithful “He sacks when he wants, he sacks when he waaaaaaants, Roman Abramovic, he sacks when he wants”
I speak to RDM afterwards who admits he’s already ‘very tired’ after the events of the last 48 hours, but insists he’s focused on 4th place as a priority, while defeated Chris Hughton says that a new 13-game season “effectively starts now” as Birmingham refocus on their Championship run-in. It’s easy for me to say it and sound biased, but Hughton is Manager of the Year for me – 47 players in & out of the club last summer and he is challenging at the right end of the table having barely spent a brass farthing. He deserves far more credit than he’s getting.
Another call from talkSPORT as I head wearily home after 11pm via Tesco. The overnight show wants to pre-record an interview with my post-match thoughts, which again I’m happy to do. The station is heading inexorably for round the clock sports content in its programming and the listening figures bear that philosophy out since the 10pm-1am slot was changed from current affairs to sport.
Tesco is blissfully quiet at stupid o’clock.
Oh, and Alan Green was quite nice to me earlier on. There, I said it.
Wednesday March 7
I’m pretending to be Gary Lineker this morning. No, I’m not hamming it up over a pack of Smoky Bacon and nor am I spectacularly dissing Piers Morgan in less than 140 characters. Instead I’m voicing a corporate presentation as him for a DHL logistics division that have written a script likening their staff to a football team, with formations and everything.
I give it my best shot (as Gary did) and send off the audio. These sorts of job are very sporadic and not to be relied upon as a regular source of income. I could be writing about next week instead of this and make no mention of voiceover work. It really is that changeable.
Away from football, I read with interest that the Live Music Bill will be given Royal Ascent and be on the statute books by the Autumn – it’s a Bill which effectively allows small pubs clubs and community centres to put on live music without the need for a Local Authority licence, and also means fewer restrictions on amplified music in pubs. The pub/club trade needs this and gigging musicians need this too. As a passionate muso of moderate ability, I’m so happy that you will soon have more musical options on a Saturday night rather than letting X Factor or Strictly rot your very inner core from within.
Watching Messi with his legs a positive blur once again as Leverkusen play the part of the hapless Belgians from It’s A Knockout. Lionel must be the only man who can eat a Fruit Pastille without chewing it. He is quite simply not of this earth.
I’ve gone all Alan Partridge and booked a Travelodge for Sat night that is equidistant between London & Norwich – looking forward to dismantling my Corby trouser press and encountering racist kitchen sellers. Perhaps.
Thursday March 8
A day off from football to all intents and purposes – I usually help my wife run her Thursday afternoon Mother and Toddler playgroup at the local church hall, where the decibel level regularly gives Lemmy and the boys a severe run for their money.
That tinnitus-inducing session is swiftly followed by my step-daughter Lily (aged 6) heading for ballet lessons after school, then her twin brother Archie needs to be at his Tae Kwon Do lesson around the same time as she starts Girls Brigade. Mental.
Once they’re both shepherded back home and take an eternity to go to bed, I relent and watch Bilbao surprise Manchester United, but surprise me not one jot. Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 formation with Chile at the World Cup was a clear sign of his willingness to rip up the tactical rule book, and how he went for the jugular and exposed United time and again.
As long as punters (and some pundits) continue to stick their heads in the sand and dismiss any possible notion that the game is developing on the continent and overseas (a trait that has endured since we invented the game, as detailed in Jonathan Wilson’s excellent “Inverting The Pyramid” book) we shall continue to look inhibited and one dimensional in our club football by contrast. Always 2 steps behind.
And don’t blame the Europa League format – the mechanic of a tournament is a total irrelevance. The apparent disinterest in how the game develops around us is the problem. It was ever thus.
Friday March 9
Ok, so I may not be a football writer in the exact sense, but I am a songwriter. Music is my other enormous passion alongside football and has been since a very early age courtesy of my dear old Dad who was an amazing piano player and a massive inspiration for me to learn an instrument. It was his and Mum’s tough luck that I settled on the drums at the age of 10.
To that end, I’m recording an album of my own original compositions at the moment, and today was a day to get loads done at Arkham Studios in Brum City Centre.
Before my entry into the media bubble back in the late 90’s, I had many a delusion of grandeur about being a rock star. You can thank KISS for that particular fruitless quest. However over the years of perpetual struggle while working in a music shop, along with occasional character-building gigs in front of 2 men a dog and a can of beans (the can got in free) I have become quite proficient on guitar, bass and keyboards as well as my first love, of course – drums.
And currently, I’m about half way through the recording process – I put down 15 drum tracks inside 2 days initially and the bass guitar followed suit in the next 2 sessions. As for today the vast majority of the guitars were completed, and I can now start to think about getting a good friend in to sing lead vocals. I’d sing them myself, but I’d like it to sell ideally.
I wonder if any football writers would do a quirky piece when the time comes about a sports radio presenter who’s releasing a rock album? Hmmm…
The evening was spent at St Andrew’s for a very special occasion – a dinner to induct more players into the Birmingham City Hall Of Fame, as organised by Dean Holtham and the Former Players Association.
It’s easy to deride a club that barely wins anything to have Hall Of Fame evenings for players who collected no medals whilst wearing the Royal Blue and White. But when big Roger Hynd, a 6’3” giant of a centre half from the 70’s found out that he had been inducted, he could barely give a speech, so overcome with emotion at what had been bestowed upon him by his peers from the club he loved. The man had been on the operating table 2 days ago, could only walk with a stick and wasn’t going to come at all, until Jimmy Calderwood stepped in to drive him all the way down from Scotland to be part of the night. He’ll treasure the fact that he made it, as we all did.
Robert Hopkins, another who wore his heart on his sleeve as a winger/striker in the 80’s was similarly choked as he collected his plaque. Now there’s 2 players whose names are not writ large in the pantheon of Association Football, but nevertheless 2 men whose love for their club is so apparent, so unconditional, that a simple award or induction can bring them to tears. This sort of outpouring of unity and recognition won’t just happen at Birmingham City dinners, but at dozens of similarly under-achieving clubs who still rightly cling to those stars who gave them joy and hope if not a trophy.
It was a privilege to be there.
Line of the night came from Jasper Carrott who was there to present the awards to the inductees, who also included Kevan Broadhurst, Malcolm Page, Joe Gallagher, Alex Govan & Garry Pendrey. Jasper simply said as he began his speech “Oh, er Alex McLeish sends his apologies (boos and hisses from crowd)…yes he’s in hospital apparently – he’s got a bad side! (HUGE cheer and uproarious laughter).”
Saturday March 10
My 18-hour day of the week, typically.
More often than not, due to the need to be at talkSPORT Towers to host my evening show every Saturday, I’m usually given the early kick-off to report on first, provided it’s geographically friendly to the studios in Southwark. Today, it’s my 1st visit of the season to the Ricoh to watch Coventry & Birmingham battle out a fairly dour 1-1 draw.
I’m there in good time to be first in the press room breakfast queue with my old boss Tom Ross from BRMB Sport, the man who gave me my big break in radio back in 1997, and is never going to let me forget it. Ever :o)
I’m accused of many things as a Birmingham fan who gets to report on his team ‘on many occasions’ as Trevor Francis would put it. On one hand I’m lambasted for supposedly being soft on bad Blues performances or conversely heaping praise where it isn’t justified. I leaned pretty early on that you can’t win by trying to pander to those who seek to attack your every word and aren’t happy unless they’re miserable. And I’ve always called the games as I see them anyway, so nothing has changed in my approach.
It is possible to be fair and even handed when delivering your reports on air to Adrian on days like this – that is not to say that you don’t let a ‘fucking hell’ go out under your breath when Gary McSheffrey (for example) scores a goal against your boys before you’re on air. That’s called being a football fan – but it doesn’t mean that you can’t see the goal from a Coventry fan’s perspective (Baker’s neat run & cross; McSheffrey’s accurately placed looping header) as well as a Birmingham one (not enough pressure on the cross; possession squandered all to easily in own half) and a neutral one that the listeners also need to hear (goal against general run of play; game needed a goal as there’d been only 1 shot on target before that 70th minute moment)
No time to collate post match audio as the M6/M1 is calling to take me down to talkSPORT to start my prep work for a 9pm start on air. I don’t have a huge production team behind me to produce 3 hours of live radio, but what I lack in quantity I more than make up for in quality. Dan, my talkSPORT producer is as enthusiastic as he is diligent and structures the show with a fine toothcomb so that all debating points on the day’s games are covered in depth. Izzy, the assistant producer, puts together a comprehensive stat pack of results/form/tables/lineups for both myself and my co-host (in this case the wonderful Alvin Martin) as well as booking guests to come on the phone for a natter. I wouldn’t change them for the world.
I also have a top roster of co-hosts that we’ve used since the Football First show moved from its former home on Sunday evenings – Alvin tonight, but it could just as easily be Ray Houghton, Marc Bircham, Stewart Robson, Nicky Summerbee, Jason Euell…Alvin, though, was my first talkSPORT radio ‘wife’ as it were and he’s still consistently erudite and honest with his opinions without ever straying into safe platitudes or clichés. He leaves that sort of bollocks to me.
Most Barclays Premier League managers are in no way interested in talking on air at 9 on a Saturday night, but Championship, L1 & L2 bosses (and players) are usually very forthcoming – Dave Jones joins us to discuss how Sheffield Weds feels “a lot like Villa” in terms of its setup and aura and Gary Johnson makes the point that the phrase ‘never go back’ hasn’t bothered him one bit at Yeovil.
The show is my baby and I’m very protective of its structure and role within the station’s output. You’re always asking yourself afterwards if you could have done it any better, and that for me has to be healthy, as you know you’ll be striving for perfection every time. I was taught very early on in my radio career that the 2 worst words you can use (aside from the obvious) are ‘err’ and ‘umm’ – you listen out for how many radio presenters in speech and music formats say ‘em – it’s frightening.
To be fair, the show is that much fun, it usually flies by and before I know it, the M11 becomes my route to head for my Partridge-esque accommodation for the night – there’s no trouser press, no unintelligible Geordie maintenance staff and no sign of Driving Miss Daisy (or Bangkok Chick Boys) on my television. There is however on small soap tablet which may or may not be able to withstand one aggressive all-over body scrub. Watch this space. Sleep.
Sunday March 11
Well the soap survived the vigorous attack I gave it (no more details required surely) but the Little Chef next door wasn’t taken in by my big plate scam. Oh well.
Drive to Norwich with Thetford Forest bathed in the most glorious spring sunshine – feels like end-of-season weather, really. Whether it’s end of season for Wigan at the bottom of the table will become more apparent by 6pm tonight.
As it turns out Wigan’s woes are shown up in the ensuing 90 minutes – wasteful from great positions all too often. Norwich ‘keeper John Ruddy wins the Man of the Match award but to me he wasn’t tested to his fullest extent, although Shaun Maloney, a forgotten man from his Aston Villa & Celtic days, makes a very telling cameo appearance from the bench to set up Wigan’s equaliser.
Martin Tyler makes a point of coming over to say hello after full time as reporters gather by the tunnel to interview the managers. He always seems so at ease with things and I should imagine a night out in his company would be gently riotous entertainment for his ‘on the road’ stories alone – the fact that he has the time to acknowledge someone who isn’t fit to touch the hem of his garment is quite humbling.
And so to the drive back home – I’d forgotten how interminably dull the A47 was – my in car DAB system steadfastly refuses to work and my enjoyment of talkSPORT’s rugby show is thus severely hampered by medium wave wow and flutter. Still, upon checking Twitter as I finally arrive back in Solihull 3 ½ hours later, I see Iwan Roberts mentioning that we’d met up at Carrow Road and that I ‘always talk sense’
Bless him. Just looking back over these 3000-odd words, though, I think ‘always waffle sense’ might be more appropriate. But then I’m fragile like that.